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Sierra Magazine
Home Front

by Tracy Baxter

In 65 chapters and hundreds of local groups spanning 21 ecoregions and two nations, Sierra Club members are hard at work protecting our natural heritage.

Pacific Coast: INTO THE WOODS WITH WOODY

The San Francisco Bay Area's record rainfall earlier this year didn't put a damper on the fun for urban kids on an outing to Henry Coe State Park near San Jose, California. In addition to fording streams and hiking five miles through mud, the Inner City Outing conservationists were treated to a surprise visit from a well-known actor from the old TV comedy Cheers. Woody Harrelson, who was arrested last year as he protested logging in the ancient Headwaters Forest (snarling traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge for hours), tagged along to work off his community-service sentence. Over the three-day backpacking trip, the performer shared his well-known enthusiasm for the great outdoors and his less publicized interest in personal health, leading the kids in a yoga lesson one sunny afternoon.

Atlantic Coast: SLUDGE FIGHT

Industry spinmeisters call the noxious sewage by-product "biosolids." But the New Hampshire Chapter insists that sewer sludge by any other name still threatens environmental and public health. To highlight the potential dangers of using a material loaded with pathogens and heavy metals to fertilize farmland and reclaim gravel pits, the chapter held a press conference. One mother recounted the death of her son, who had walked through a hayfield spread with sludge from a waste-treatment plant weeks before. A farmer explained how dozens of his cows died after eating sludge-tainted feed. And other speakers recited a host of health problems, including rashes, nosebleeds, and diarrhea, that they attributed to sludge exposure. The moving testimonies bolstered the chapter's efforts to win a state moratorium on using sludge until stricter detoxification guidelines are adopted.

Across the Nation: FIRST, DO NO HARM

According to the EPA, dioxins are among the world's most toxic substances. The agency's new emission standards for medical-waste incinerators, however, suggest that the EPA sometimes ignores its own data. Trash from many of the nation's 6,000 hospitals flows into incinerators unleashing dioxins, mercury, and lead-all linked to cancer, birth defects, and other debilitating diseases. In amending the Clean Air Act in 1990, Congress ordered the EPA to impose stringent emissions standards on the incinerators. But the EPA lowered the bar, allowing poorly managed incinerators to spew out up to 100 times the pollutants emitted by the cleanest facilities. Represented by the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the Sierra Club is suing for stronger air protections.

American Southeast: GREEN BAYOU

This February the future looked grim for Clam Bayou along the shore of Florida's Boca Ciega Bay. For the second time in three years, sewers in nearby St. Petersburg overflowed, pouring millions of gallons of untreated sewage into the undeveloped marsh. But on Earth Day, as Club volunteers kicked off a preservation campaign at Clam Bayou, a promising sign appeared from above-a bald eagle circling. And the good omens keep coming.

From city council members to church groups to local columnists, nearly everyone supports the creation of a 140-acre natural haven, not only for the osprey, roseate spoonbills, and manatees that make Clam Bayou their home but also for their human admirers. Even Clam Bayou's private landowners are offering to donate some property to the green-space project. Now activists are urging St. Petersburg to acquire land, remove destructive non-native species, and construct a boardwalk for nature enthusiasts.

Great North American Prairie: DUMPING A DUMP

"Modern landfills don't smell," the Transport Development Group boasted about the 110-million-ton-capacity landfill it proposed to build in an industrial park near the recently established Midewin National Prairie. But the Sauk-Calumet Group of the Illinois Chapter smelled something fishy in TDG's maneuvering to construct the facility. In its initial development plan, the company proposed only a rail-and-warehouse operation on the site, promising to create 1,300 to 1,500 jobs for the small town of Elwood and adjacent communities. But only two weeks later, it was pushing for a mega-dump and a quarry, offering the town a cut of the filthy lucre.

Joining Republican Congressman Jerry Weller in challenging the project, the Sauk-Calumet Group went door-to-door in Elwood posing a critical question: Would the town rather be the gateway to a prairie paradise or the home of the nation's largest dump? The community's unequivocal reply convinced the developer to drop the dump. The group is now focused on blocking the quarry.

Southwest Deserts: CAN YOU DIG IT?

Ask some Inner City Outing participants about the preservation of nature and they might show you a fossil. Seven El Paso Group kids ages 12 to 17 were invited by the Center of Indigenous Research to help excavate the 10,000-year-old remains of a mammoth found near Nogal, New Mexico. "It was a good lesson in patience," says ICO leader Rich Rheder. "Most of the weekend, we were sifting rock and clay, and every once in a while, we'd come up with a bone fragment or a chipped stone artifact." In the final moments of the outing, the kids' virtue was rewarded with the discovery of a mammoth's rib bone.


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